Free Agent Focus: Minor Leaguers

The list of minor league free agents was published on Baseball America a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t celebrated with quite the pomp and circumstance of the beginning of MLB free agency.

Yet, there likely will be much more activity by the Mets with minor league free agents than with their Major League counterparts.

Generally, this list is made up of “AAAA” players; those who have mastered the AAA level but for whatever reason have not been able to make a career in the bigs. However, there are some mildly intriguing names here and there; read on to see a few highlights.

Wladimir Balentien – big kid with a cannon for an arm and raw power who has put a hurtin’ on minor league pitching and is only 25 years old. There was a guy named Nelson Cruz who had a similar career path before “figuring it out”. I’d say he’d be worth picking up, but the Mets are too late to the party — he has reportedly signed a contract to play in Japan. Can he pull a Cecil Fielder, or will he be another Tuffy Rhodes?

Michael Barrett – the Mets stashed Barrett in Buffalo last summer but he never made it back to the bigs. You may remember him as the righthanded-hitting catcher with sporadic power and suspect social skills; or at the very least you remember him as the guy who belted A.J. Pierzynski after a play at the plate. Considering that the Mets need some depth behind the plate, maybe they’ll bring him back on another AAA deal; it all depends on what former Field Coordinator / current Mets manager Terry Collins thinks of him.

Clay Zavada – there was a point when I thought Clay Zavada and Clay Rapada were the same person. As it turns out, they sort of are — both LOOGYs with limited skillsets. However, Zavada may be more interesting, both for his Rollie Fingers-inspired waxed handlebar mustache and his age (26). There was also this great story about him in The New York Times. Zavada was solid as a middle reliever coming out of Arizona’s bullpen in 2009, but struggled in spring training in 2010 and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in late May. He’ll be sidelined until at least May or June, but he might be worth signing and keeping in the Mets’ back pocket. With all the panic surrounding the losses of Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi (why, I’m not sure … who cares about a LOOGY on a fourth place team?), Zavada could be a darkhorse to give a look-see in late 2011 and consider for 2012 and beyond — which is what the Mets are planning for anyway.

Josh Barfield – the son of Jesse was an NL Rookie of the Year candidate after playing in 150 games as the Padres’ starting second baseman in 2006. After the season, he was traded to the Indians for then-minor leaguer Kevin Kouzmanoff in what seemed like a strange deal. But the Padres knew what they were doing, because Barfield laid an egg in Cleveland and has been in the minors ever since, struggling to overcome injuries and an over-aggressive approach at the plate. Last year in AAA he returned from a finger injury like a man on a mission, finishing with a .294 batting average but only a .325 OBP — not enough for one who doesn’t have much power and now only average speed. He has regressed in all areas as he’s aged and this coming year is likely his last chance to crack an MLB roster again.

Joel Guzman – this 6’6, 250-lb wunderkind was supposed to be the next Alex Rodriguez; a toolsy shortstop with beastly power potential. I don’t understand what the heck happened, but he never came close to fulfilling the hype. He spent last year in AA and dominated with 33 HR and .863 OPS as a 25-year-old first baseman / DH. Who knows, maybe he was rushed and is now starting to find his way. He’s played SS, 3B, 1B, and the OF in his career.

Ryan Braun – not the Hebrew Hammer, this is the other Ryan Braun, a righthanded pitcher with a propensity for fanning minor league hitters (career 10 K / 9 IP). I don’t know if he’d actually be any good, but it would be incredibly cool to post the headline “Mets Get Ryan Braun“.

Jeremy Reed – you remember him as the most productive piece of the 3-team, 12-player deal with the Mariners and Indians in December 2008. I love his all-around approach to the game, his defensive skill, and his effectiveness as a pinch-hitter. If the Mets unload Carlos Beltran or Angel Pagan this winter, Reed would be an ideal, and cheap, backup centerfielder.

Danny Richar – it wasn’t long ago that Richar was a power-hitting second baseman on the fast-track to the big leagues. However he’s been unable to stick at the MLB level and seems to have lost some of his power. He spent last year in AAA New Orleans and hit .315 with a .341 OBP and .422 SLG. At 27 he’s getting long in the tooth but might be worth a look.

Charlie Zink – a 31-year-old knuckleballer with 10 years’ experience in the minors and exactly 1 game, 4 IP in the Majors. Could he be the next RA Dickey?

Yusmeiro Petit – remember this kid when he was a top pitching prospect for the Mets? He’s been around so long, he was originally signed by the Mets when Steve Phillips was the GM — yet, he just turned only 26 years old two weeks ago. Petit has been solid but unspectacular ever since being part of the Carlos Delgado deal. He spent last year as a reliever in AAA, and wasn’t bad. If we believe his birth certificate he might be worth stashing in Buffalo.

Endy Chavez – can you feel your heartstrings tugging? Me too. But allow logic to prevail: Endy is not the same since tearing his ACL and will be 33 years old when spring training starts.

Some of the above may have already signed contracts; minor league deals are rarely big news so it’s possible I missed a signing here and there — let me know in the comments. Also post your notes on anyone I missed.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. CatchDog December 2, 2010 at 10:26 am
    FWIW – Michael Barrett is a righty batter only. I believe Barrett was in Diego with Sandy and Paulie. Could it be an advantage for him in the Spring?
    • Joe Janish December 2, 2010 at 10:52 am
      Thanks CD, it’s been corrected.

      Sandy does seem to be bringing in all of his old cronies. Maybe we’ll see Barrett, Wiki Gonzalez, and Terry Steinbach too. 🙂

      Well I guess former Padres and A’s are better than former Expos ….

  2. Chris Blessing December 2, 2010 at 12:45 pm
    Wladimir Balentien signed to play in Japan a week and a half ago
    • Joe Janish December 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm
      Chris, yes, as it states in the article. Thank you for confirming.
  3. Rotoprofessor December 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm
    Joe, what are your thoughts on the Mets bringing in Angel Salome, who I noticed on the minor league free agent list this afternoon?

    Alderson has said that the Mets need to add catching depth, and opposed to bringing in an old veteran with little upside, why not a 24-year old who once had a ton of promise?

    (I know the Brewers moved him to the outfield in 2010, but still)

    • Joe Janish December 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm
      Roto, I’m open to anyone under 25 years old who might have promise.

      The problem with Salome is that he requested to be moved to the outfield because he personally felt that catching was too difficult for him mentally. And actually, he wasn’t a very good catcher physically speaking, either — he showed slow feet and bad footwork, which in turn resulted in poor throwing. The kid can definitely hit, though.

      If — and this is a big IF — Salome is open to returning behind the plate, AND the Mets can hook him up with a decent catching instructor, then there’s the possibility of him turning his career around. Is it worth it? Why not? As you suggest, younger with former promise is better than older with little upside.

  4. Dan December 3, 2010 at 10:59 am
    DIdn’t Barfield sign with the Phils last month?
    • Joe Janish December 3, 2010 at 4:01 pm
      Thanks, Dan! I missed that.
  5. Dan December 3, 2010 at 11:24 am
    I looked up Barfield on baseball reference, it indicates he sign did sign with the Phils on Nov 19, 2010.

    Another possibility, I have seen conflicting reports as to if he is a minor league free agent or would have to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, but I think Craig Italiano is someone to consider. Big 6’4″ 24 year old rightly, originally drafted in the 2nd round by the A’s out of HS. Missed time with injuries including shoulder surgery in 2006. Traded to SD in 2009 in the Hairston trade. SD moved him to the pen and lowered his arm slot and he responded with strong number in high A ball. Despite the shoulder problems and the new arm slot he can still hit 96 on the gun and like Pelfrey has natural sink. His numbers in AA this year were still strong, but his control regressed a little. In a year and a half in the SD system he has an ERA under 2.20, and had only allowed 67 hits in 84 innings. He is not currently on the SD 40 man roster. Definitely seems worth a look in Spring training and obviously there is the connection to Alderson.

    • Joe Janish December 3, 2010 at 4:04 pm
      Nice find, Dan. I don’t know much about Italiano since the shoulder surgery; I just assumed he’d never recover his velocity. Sounds like he is definitely worth taking a gander at.

      In addition to the possibility that Italiano might be able to contribute, it would also be nice to hear “Volare” played at the ballpark again.